Written by Lisa Judd, CNN
Less than a week before a new junior mining permit application was slated to be granted at the site of a devastating chromite mine in northern Ontario, environmentalists and First Nations activists banded together to call on the Ontario government to halt the process.
One of those groups, Resolute Forest Products, is among Canada’s largest private employers and has declared it would close a mill at the Flemish Lake mine site if the company, Labrador Iron Mines, was granted the necessary mining permits.
That was the claim made Friday by the Beaver Lake Cree Nation of northern Ontario, who have said they were blindsided by the application, and believe the new project would contribute to the destruction of an ecosystem vital to many local First Nations.
Before a public outcry, Ontario approved a new mining permit last week, authorizing Labrador Iron Mines to proceed with an application for new permits allowing them to mine a wide area around the town of St. Catharines and at least 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the community.
“Despite months of efforts by the community, this new application and new process for economic development has the potential to seriously undermine the health and welfare of our members and community,” a spokesperson for the Beaver Lake Cree Nation said.
This map, released by Resolute Forest Products in June 2018, shows the location of the Beaver Lake site in northern Ontario. Credit: Resolute Forest Products
Holding up a faded version of the map provided by Resolute Forest Products, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation pleaded for the Ontario government to do more to restore forestry to the area.
“We are gravely concerned that this mistaken permit could jeopardize our economic sustainability and our significant maple syrup and auberge businesses,” the release continued.
In response to the statement, Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Richard K. Cannings, said the permit was “not intended to reduce environmental protections and is not a vote-sealer.”
“The permit process follows the provincial policy of good stewardship of natural resources and ensures applications comply with the protection set forth under applicable laws,” he said.
“As always, the regulatory process has included significant and detailed consultations with government staff, aboriginal leadership, environmental organizations, citizens and the First Nations.”
The province says the mining permit was approved because “the current state of the (area) has a role in the future of the project’s economics, which are better achieved with a prudent development of the project than through continuing to consider an abandoned mine site.”
Further permitting would require clear, “mitigated” environmental impacts while respecting aboriginal traditions and legal processes, the statement said.
Yet the communities opposed to the project worry the permits go far beyond adequate “mitigation” — an issue which looms large on their struggle for social justice and environmental protection.
Even worse, Resolute Forest Products has said that if Labrador Iron Mines enters into a partnership with them to mine the area — which would kickstart new mining permits — the company would set up a second company for the project, in which the Beaver Lake Cree Nation and other native communities would have no direct involvement.
This move would not only be illegal, but also contravene aboriginal laws, Resolute contends.
“The current state of the (area) has a role in the future of the project’s economics,” Lamont Peterson, senior vice president and general counsel at Resolute Forest Products, said in a statement last month.
“If Labrador Iron Mines enters into a partnership with Resolute, the company would set up a second company for the project in which the Beaver Lake Cree Nation and other native communities would have no direct involvement.
“A partnership such as this violates aboriginal rights.”
These concerns have caused an outcry from opposition politicians, as well as the local First Nations.
“The parties involved must reach an understanding with the leadership of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation,” said Liberal member of Parliament Chandra Arya in a letter sent to Premier Doug Ford on Wednesday.
Arya also raised concern that if the province signed a mining permit agreement with Labrador Iron Mines, it would effectively make preferential treatment for the project the “norm rather than the exception,” and urge the government to go further in providing the environment and resource land back to the local community.
“I am dismayed that in the months since Resolute filed its letter to me, Hydro Minerals and Labrador Iron Mines have not sought to resolve this matter on the same terms as Resolute,” he wrote.
And Community Safety Minister Brad Duguid echoed concerns, saying he was “disappointed that the Minister of Natural Resources and